If you don’t scroll down beyond the main headlines, you may have missed the sad news of the death the other week of Attrell Cordes. You may not have realised that he was yet another in the interminable line of musicians that seem to be leaving us in 2016. He was only 46. There may not be much written about him, so let me tell you what I know. Let me tell you why he was important both to me and, in my humble opinion, to the musical world.
Attrell Cordes, stage name of Prince Be, was part of the duo that made up PM Dawn. For many the connection with PM Dawn starts and ends with the 1991 chart success “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”. You’ll have heard it… It’s the dreamy one with Spandau Ballet’s “True” forming the backdrop.
I heard the single and bought the album – “Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross – The Utopian Experience”. It can be hit and miss buying LP’s off the back of singles, and this was way outside my normal diet of indie and punk rock. My limited forays into the world of Hip-Hop were at a harder end… early Electro albums and Ice-T! I was not the natural core market for PM Dawn.
So what to make of this smooth, whimsical, soulful version of Hip-Hop? I played the record to death. Every time I needed something calm, this was the album I turned to. The sheer quality of the song writing shone through. The complete harmony in which the elements were put together, the deeply weird lyrics and touchingly sensitive delivery just made it a pleasure to listen to. This record opened the door for me to go back and listen to some of the old soul and R&B that I had grown up with in the 70’s and had left behind before the decade was out.
A few years ago I reacquired the album along with two others. They sound as fresh and relevant today as they did when I first heard them, except now they seem to fit in the mainstream rather than on an interesting, but quirky, edge.
And that’s at the heart of the importance of PM Dawn to music. They formed in 1988 at a time when hip-hop was hard-core. The music was harsh and macho, the delivery was confrontational. NWA and Public Enemy were hitting the world hard and dividing America. They were, bizarrely, utterly counter cultural – Hip-hop was supposed to be aggressive and edgy, not this lyrical whimsy where gentleness and femininity flourished. And so PM Dawn were widely condemned.
Ultimately the quality of the music shone through and expanded the world of Hip-Hop, connecting it with soul and R&B genres and paving the way for the likes of Arrested Development, The Fugees, R Kelly. Any modern day artist that connects Soul and Rap owes, in part, to the breaking of boundaries enabled by the music of PM Dawn – yes Beyonce… I mean you!
I know little of Attrell as a person. If he was the embodiment of his music he would have been a gentle and loving soul. He was not a healthy man and his death is something of a release from the hardship of life.
So, I pay tribute to Attrell. Below are some links to his music, but buy “Of the Heart” and listen to its freshness. As you realise it is 25 years old, salute everyone who has the courage and fortitude to dare to be different